Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Are Witnesses

Luke 24:36b-48
April 22, 2012

            If I ever have the opportunity to write a dissertation on the Harry Potter series and Charlotte’s Web I will.  Why?  Because I think the Potter series and E.B. White’s classic story are two of the best examples of the power of friendship, sacrifice, and a willingness to put the greater good above the individual needs. 
            I’ve been in love with the story of Charlotte and Wilbur since I was a kid.  And even though I was an adult when Harry Potter came along, I felt the same deep bond reading that series as I did when I read Charlotte’s Web. 
            So I love these books!  I love them!  I love them!  I’ve read a lot of good books in my life, but I think these are some of the best.  If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend that you do.  I know that everyone has different taste, but trust me on this, you must read these books.  I’m telling you reading these books changed my life.  They changed the way I look at life, the way I approach friendship.  They changed the way I approach love. 
            I know that my just encouraging you to read these books may not be enough to sell you on them.  You have to read them.  You have to experience them for yourself to really understand how amazing they are.  You have to jump into them and be changed by them.  I can’t make them real for you.  But I can point the way.  I can tell you about my own experience.  Maybe that will make you think about reading them for yourself.
            You’re probably wondering how these books tie in to our scripture passages today, aren’t you?  Fair question.  These books actually have nothing to do with what our passage from Luke is about – not really.  It’s true that I think they’re great books.  It’s also true that I’ve learned many invaluable lessons from them.  Really, though, these books don’t have anything to do with our scripture passages today, particularly the one from Luke which I’m focusing on.  I’m sure I could find connections, but that wasn’t my point.
            What I did, hopefully, in telling you about the books that I love was witness to them.  I told you what it meant to me to read them and encouraged you to read them too.  I witnessed. 
            Witnessing to those books was incredibly easy for me because I feel so passionately about them.  Because I feel so passionately about them, it was easy to talk about them.  It wasn’t anxiety producing or stressful.  I didn’t feel embarrassed or self-conscious.  I just wanted to share something that I love.  I witnessed.
            At the end of our passage from Luke, Jesus declares to the disciples that they are witnesses of these things.  What are the things that he refers to?  Jesus is referring to himself.  This is a post resurrection appearance.  Our story follows on the heels of probably the best known of Luke’s accounts of post resurrection appearances – the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  There two disciples are making their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus.  Jesus joins them on the road but they don’t recognize them.  The disciples have been speaking about everything that’s happened.  The crucifixion of Jesus.  The women’s supposedly idle tale that the tomb was empty and the message from the angels that Jesus was indeed risen.  When Jesus asks them what they’ve been talking about, they look sad and relate all this to them.  Then he begins to interpret the scriptures for them in light of what they’ve seen and heard. 
            They encourage him to stay with them.  And when he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they recognize him.  Immediately upon recognition he vanishes from their sight.  So they hightail it back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.  And while they’re sharing with the disciples what they’ve just seen and heard and witnessed, Jesus appears in their midst. 
            Now they all witness the resurrected Christ.  But even with everything they’ve heard and what they now see, they are still terrified.  They think it’s a ghost.  Jesus dismisses that idea.  Look at me, he tells them.  Touch my hands and feet.  Does a ghost have flesh and bones?  And while he tells them this, he shows them his hands and feet.  He gives them proof that he was indeed crucified, dead, buried and now he’s raised again – not just as a spirit, but as a real physical being. 
            Even as he shows them all this they still have doubts.  Luke writes that, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”
            Jesus is not just a spirit before them.  He has flesh and bones and hunger.  They are overjoyed, but still disbelieving.  They don’t trust their senses.  Then Jesus did what he did for the other disciples on the road to Emmaus.  He opens their minds to understand the scriptures.  It seems that an open, enlightened mind is the final, necessary ingredient to belief.  When he finishes interpreting the scriptures in light of all that has happened, with his physical presence before them, the complete and unequivocal proof that what he told them before his death has come true, he declares to them all, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” 
            You are witnesses of these things.  That’s not just a statement of fact, is it?  There is an implied imperative here as well.  You are witnesses of these things and therefore you must witness.  Starting in Jerusalem, this story has to be told.  God’s word of repentance and forgiveness must be preached.  And as witnesses of these things, it starts with you. 
            As it is commonly believed that the author of Luke is also the author of Acts, this sets the stage for what comes next in Acts; how the disciples who didn’t get it become the apostles who finally do. 
            But in this moment, Jesus tells them that they are witnesses of these things.  And as we understand that the stories we read in scripture continue to have meaning for us, we also hear the imperative in these words as well.
            No, we were not witnesses to the bodily resurrected Christ as the disciples were.  But I suspect that the reason we’re here today is because in some form or fashion, we have witnessed Christ’s presence in our lives.  In some way or another we’ve experienced Christ.  We’ve been changed by Christ.  Our hearts, our minds have been opened to understand scriptures in a new light.
We are witnesses of these things.  So we better get out there and start witnessing.
            How many of you are thinking, “That’s great Amy.  You first.”
            We are witnesses of these things.  And the implication is that as witnesses we should be telling people about it.  That’s what the disciples/apostles did.  They received the power of the Holy Spirit and they told people.  They found their courage to preach and teach.  They even spoke in languages they’d never heard before.  They trusted that the words would come and they did.  It wasn’t perfect, I get that.  But they still did it.  That must mean that we can too.  So let’s get out there.  Let’s go.  Let’s get witnessing. 
            Still no stampede to the door?  Are you waiting for me to take the lead? 
            I have been taught how to stand up here and interpret and tell stories.  I’ve read a lot of books.  I have some knowledge, a little bit of authority.  But when it comes to witnessing, I still think of the same old stereotypes of the person on a busy corner with a sandwich board proclaiming we better repent cause the end of the world is near.  That shows my age, actually, because the sandwich board today would be a post on social media or a worldwide text message.  But the stereotype remains. And I’m not comfortable with it.  I’m not so good at witnessing.  It’s much easier for me to share my passion for Harry Potter and Charlotte’s Web and movies that I love and social injustices that I decry than witness to the power of Christ in my life. 
            I worry that if I tell about the times that I’ve known without a doubt that the presence of Christ was with me, that I’ll be laughed at or scorned.  Someone will think I’m trying to change them or make them think exactly like me.  It’s more comfortable to talk about books I love than it is to talk about my faith.  Who really wants to leave their comfort zone?  Really? 
            But we are called to be witnesses of these things.  It seems to me that being a witness to the resurrected Christ takes practice just like any other skill.  So let’s try some practicing.
            Many of you have heard my story of faith.  I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, left the Southern Baptist church, pushed God and church and religion and faith away for many years, moved to Richmond, Virginia for a job, found the Presbyterians, went back to church, the rest is history and here I am in front of you.
            But I lost the job that brought me to Richmond.  And I was running out of the little money that I had.  I had rent to pay and bills and a car.  I was looking for a job, temping at offices, babysitting, borrowing money from my parents, whatever I could to make ends meet.  But those ends weren’t quite meeting.  In fact there was a significant gap and it was growing.
            I was angry and scared and depressed.  I was angry.  I was so angry one day that I just blew up.  Not at a friend or a neighbor or a relative.  I blew up at God.  I threw a temper tantrum at God.  I yelled.  I pounded my fists.  I told God I didn’t get it.  What was going on?  I’d been doing all the right things.  I’d gone back to church.  I was trying to live a life that had meaning.  I was embracing faith once more.  But now that I was doing all of that it seemed like everything else was falling to pieces around me.  I felt betrayed.  And I was mad. 
            So I yelled and raged and threw myself on my bed and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.  And then I just lay there for a while in silence, spent of any emotions, at least for the time being.  The silence started to work on me.  It was like the quiet that comes after a storm.  I calmed down.  I took deep breaths.  And then I realized that the silence wasn’t empty.  It was filled.  It was filled with God. There’s no other way for me to put it.  It was filled with God.  I wasn’t alone.  I was being held.  Not by some ghostly presence, but by the very real living presence of Christ.  All of my anger and pain had been heard and taken from me.  I was held and loved and cared for.  There were no answers in that silence.  I heard no words.  I didn’t know what would happen next.  I still had no idea how to pay my bills or find a new job, etc.  But I wasn’t alone and I was loved.  It was enough.
            I am a witness of these things.  So are you.  May all of us be empowered by the presence of the risen Christ to share what we have witnessed, to share the good news of God in Christ Jesus.  We are witnesses of these things.  Alleluia!  Amen.

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